Ask Steve: Suicide














Question: Steve, how are Christians to look on the act of suicide? Can truly regenerate believers commit suicide? How would you deal with a member of your church with suicidal thoughts? How do you counsel a family which has lost a member due to suicide?

Answer: Suicide is self-murder and is one of the most grievous of occurrences. It happens in a person’s life for various reasons, but regardless of those reasons, it is by no means a justifiable act. From the very beginning, God looks upon the taking of human life (murder) as sin (Gen 4:8-14), and reaffirms the gravity of this deed in the Sixth Commandment (Ex 20:13). It is not only wrong to murder others, but to murder oneself, which is essentially an act of self-hatred and an attack on the image of God in man. Christians should never encourage or tolerate any form of suicide, even if it can lead to the lessening of the person’s trials in life. Christians are to value life and preserve it to the best of their ability. The taking of one’s own life is not only a serious sin against the Lord, but a poor testimony to the Holy Spirit’s work in the church and in the life of a sinner.

A popular question that often arises concerning suicide is whether or not Christians can commit suicide? If so, what becomes of their eternal destiny? Is it an unpardonable sin that undoes the justification and grace granted onto the believer at the time of his conversion?

I must begin by commenting that suicide is amongst many sins that characterize the condemned unbeliever, but one that can be forgiven by God. A person who has repented and trusts in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are justified and have their sins washed away, whether it be suicide, adultery, blasphemy, abortion, cursing, idolatry, or sorcery. The Holy Spirit not only justifies the person and no longer holds the sins against them, but also regenerates the believer. Spiritual rebirth is responsible for the believer seeking after God and being able, and willing, to follow in on God’s commandments. The Holy Spirit’s ministry is not only about saving the believer from the penalty of sin (justification), but also from the power of sin (sanctification). He grants Christian’s a new heart with new desires (2 Cor 5:17) so that he will turn away from the life of sin and pursue righteousness. That is why believers will abound in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23), and not usually be given over to the destructive behavior that characterizes the unregenerate man.

Even though most Christians will end up never committing suicide or even entertaining the idea, there are some cases in which believers fall into this tragic sin, much like they commit blatant adultery or abortion. In other words, it is possible for real believers to commit suicide. It happens for various reasons, some which are not related to escaping the pains or tragedies of life. Whatever the motives, suicide is a tragic by-product of the flesh – one that seriously grieves the Holy Spirit.

The Roman Catholic tradition holds that suicide is a mortal sin that leads to forfeiture of one’s salvation. Some Protestants even believe something similar. However, there is no clear cut Scriptural reference that validates this view. It is true that suicide does often times lead a person to eternal damnation, but it is not solely because of the suicide issue. People are damned because of their unbelief (Rom 1:18-20; Heb 3:19), which manifests in their life of unrepentant sins against the Lord. And suicide is one of the observable symptoms of a spiritually dead, sinful person. It is just another expression of one’s pride and rebellion against the Lord, and another sin that the person will be held accountable to on the Day of Judgment (Rev 20:11-15).

Christians must be open to the possibility that believers who commit suicide – for whatever reason – end up with the Lord upon death. Once again, it is not a sin to be encouraged, and must strongly be exhorted against. Yet it is one of many sins that the Lord Jesus died for on the cross so believers will not have to be held judicially accountable for it. To say that suicide is an unpardonable sin or one that causes the reversal of one’s justification is to say that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not complete or satisfactory before the Father. If a person is truly regenerate and has been graced with the gift of salvation, he will experience salvation and glorification, even if he has fallen into the tragic sin of suicide.

People in church sometimes become troubled to the point of contemplating suicide, both teenagers and seniors. How do we handle such people? Once again, suicide is a sin that must be dissuaded at all costs. Christians must seek to protect and save the lives of others, whether they are Christian or not. A Christian in the church who is thinking about suicide must be handled with care and patience. But he must also be confronted with the truth of God’s word. The best approach in dealing with the matter is to obviously counsel the depressed Christian, first attempting to hear his story and his complete thought process on the matter. After the believer has expressed his pains and emotions, the Christian counselor should seek to find out whether this person is truly saved, since suicide is an action undertaken predominantly by unregenerate people. If the person is not a believer, then the counselor should teach and encourage the counselee with the gospel in the hopes that he will come to repentance and faith. Do not underestimate the power of this step, because a person’s experience of the gospel can really be the difference between life and death, motivation and depression in a person (Jn 10:10; Gal 2:20; 1 Jn 3:9). The Holy Spirit regenerates the sinner and uses the word of God in the gospel to bring healing to the grieved person, which is why compassionate, but candid evangelism is crucial.

If the person is a true believer, then the counselor should likewise seek to understand the person’s story. After he has heard everything, the counselor should be quick to identity the main source of sin that is causing the troubled believer to be acting this way, which is self-pity, anxiety, or hopelessness that usually finds its source in selfishness and pride. The counselor should comfort the believer, but also seek to bring about spiritual healing by teaching him how the word of God addresses his particular troubles and teaches him to respond to it. Of course, all this must be anchored in the glorious gospel message that brings faith, hope, and love to all Christians. Towards the end of the discussion, the counselor should seek to get a commitment from the believer to take the practical steps to restoration. This includes immediate removal of all obstacles that would drive the believer back into suicidal tendencies.

Regrettably, these steps do not guarantee that a professing Christian will seek healing, and Christians will at times end up taking their own life. Then comes the inevitable stage of comforting grieved family members who are looking for answers. When counseling a family of such a tragedy, you should not try to spend all of your time giving a lecture on God’s sovereign purposes for this event or theorizing about whether the suicide victim is in heaven or in hell. The counselor should first and foremost seek to comfort the family and to pray with them. How one conducts such counseling will vary depending on the family’s questions, concerns, or emotional state. But the general idea is to listen to the family, comfort them, and exhort them with Scripture as it relates to the goodness of God, the grief of God over sin and fallen nature, and to tie that in with the hope of the gospel. In fact, this counseling session could be an ideal time to evangelize the family if they are unbelievers.